The lack of legal or government action over the death of Mulrunji in police custody on Palm Island is a watershed moment. It has brought home very starkly the inequality faced by Indigenous people in Queensland and the fact that the political and legal systems do not deliver justice for them – indeed it often delivers the opposite.
The starkness of this tragedy and injustice also provides a big opportunity – a recognition that things simply cannot go as they are. To make the most of this opportunity, it is important that public attention and pressure is maintained.
There are peaceful rallies and marches planned tomorrow (Wednesday) in both Brisbane and Townsville.
- The Brisbane event is from 12 noon at Queens Park (Corner of George & Elizabeth Streets, opposite the casino) to march on state parliament.
- The Townsville rally starts from 10.15 am from Central park, opposite Dean Park in the City heart.
There is a prospect for fresh start here, but it will need a change in priorities and attitudes from politicians, governments, the mass media and other social institutions. Despite statements by various politicians to the contrary over the years, there are many capable people and leaders in the Palm Island community who are looking for change and who have the capability to make it happen if they are given the chance. This story by John Andersen in today’s Townsville Bulletin gives some indication of what the Island community wants.
Premier Peter Beattie will be on Palm Island tommorow, as will National ALP President Warren Mundine. I haven’t agreed with much the Premier has said over the last few days, and his past form in this area makes me sceptical about his approach this time. However, he is right to say that “There are two issues – one relates to Mulrinji and the Doomadgee family, and the second relates to the future of Palm Island.” Whilst justice regarding the death in custody is important, the focus on this should not be so intense as to obscure the wider issue of overturning a century of discrimination, explotation, neglect and injustice for Palm Island people.
This situation is tragic, but it is also provides a real chance for a circuit breaker. However, it will need strong and wise politcal leadership, rather than a focus on short-term media management. If the wider community indicates this is something we demand, it will dramatically increase the chances of genuine change. If not, it risks being just another short-term controversy, where the political will fades as soon as the media spotlight does, with Palm Islanders left facing the same barriers and impediments that have been put in their way over the years, and the rest of us sadly shaking our heads and saying ‘something should be done about it.’
As Col Dillon, the widely respected Aboriginal former Police Officer, said in resigning yesterday from the Queensland Public Service, ‘I don’t see the government will be doing anything in the future – it has done very little in the past.’
This matches the view Noel Pearson expressed a couple of months ago that “In eight years the Beattie Government has not done one credible thing to ensure a better life for the children of Palm Island”.
It will need continuing pressure on governments from the wider non-indigenous community for this to change. Now is as good a time as any to start that pressure building.